Published: May 07, 2011 8:46 PM EDT
Updated: May 07, 2011 5:46 PM EDT

ESTERO, Fla. - Former Florida Gulf Coast University President William C. "Bill" Merwin has died.

FGCU said Merwin, 71, passed away Friday in Jacksonville following a lengthy illness.

Merwin was FGCU's second president, elected to the position in 1999, and serving until his resignation in 2007.  He also played a key role in developing the university prior to its opening in 1997.

In a statement, FGCU said Merwin is credited with growing student housing on campus, taking the intercollegiate athletics program from its infancy to NCAA Division I, and adding many new degree programs including engineering and music.

"Florida Gulf Coast University in 2011 is light years ahead of where it would be today without the leadership of Bill Merwin," said current FGCU President Wilson G. Bradshaw in a statement.  "Bill served as president of FGCU during a time of unparalleled growth and development, and he will be fondly remembered as a dynamic leader whose vision and many accomplishments significantly advanced our university."

Services will be held on Monday, May 9 at 11 a.m. at Hardage-Giddens Funeral Home, located at 11801 San Jose Blvd., Jacksonville, FL.  Florida Gulf Coast University will honor President Merwin on campus at a later date.